Confronting Issues without Being Confrontational: Effective Communication Skills for Any Relationship

Direct vs. Indirect Communication

Direct communication has gotten a bad rap over the years. In a world of touch and go political correctness, people are almost afraid to say what they mean and mean what they say. This is most prevalent in the workplace where anything you say to a coworker or employee could be taken in offense. We’ve gotten to the point where we skirt around real issues, not simply to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or disturbing the peace, but out of complacency, bad habit, and fear of being honest to the other person’s face. This only precipitates the issue, escalating it often into productivity wasters as we spend all our time going around the problem, yet never getting to the core of it and finding a solution. This happens in romantic and personal relationships too. I’ve seen couples grow apart and friendships ruined through a lack of direct communication.

You don’t have to be rude

The mistake many people make when they attempt to communicate their feelings directly is that they can be too blunt or even rude. This makes the other person go on the defensive. He or she puts a wall up, and the battle has begun. It’s no longer a discussion. Now it’s a fight. There is a way to say how you feel without offending or insulting the other person. First, you have to understand it’s natural for people to put up a defense. If you want to be an effective communicator, you must first disarm your target listener. Dismantle the bomb before you decide to go in there and start tinkering with it. The best way to disarm your listener is by giving him or her a compliment. For every critical thing you say, there should be one positive thing before it to counteract the negative impact of the critique. Secondly, choose your words carefully. Make sure you don’t use words that sound critical in your critique. Rather than saying, “I’m disappointed in you for being lazy and not pulling your weight.” It would be much more effective to be specific and omit words with negative emotional charges such as “disappointed” which will bring about a feeling of guilt and “lazy” which will most likely bring about indignant anger. It would be better to say, “First of all, I want to thank you for helping me organize the files. You really took initiative on that. I would like to talk to you about helping me out more on the floor. Sometimes it gets very busy out there, and we need all hands on deck. If you would do that for me, I would appreciate it.” Lastly, when you bring up a problem, you need to be ready with the solution. If you are not ready with a solution, then ask the target listener to brainstorm with you what the solution might be. Always end on a pleasant note with a polite phrase and a smile.

Remember it:

Effective Direct Communication

  1. Start with a compliment. Disarm your target listener.
  2. Choose neutral or positively charged words. Avoid negatively charged words.
  3. Be ready with a solution or ask your target listener to brainstorm a solution with you.
  4. End on a pleasant note with a smile.

Obviously, this kind of communication takes some planning on your part. It’s not an impromptu conversation. This is a technique that works well if you think ahead about what you want to say and even rehearse it a bit to yourself beforehand to make sure you don’t get off track in the moment of confrontation. You have to know what issue you are planning to address and have already thought out not only what you would like to say, but what you would like the solution to be in the outcome of the conversation. This works very well when dealing with people in the workplace. It can also work very well in your romantic or personal relationships if you discuss with your partner, loved one, or friend that this is the way you want to deal with the issues that arise between you. If you set it as a pattern of communication in your lives, it will soon become second nature to always address one another this way.

Discussion vs. Argument

I remember when I was in a romantic relationship in my younger years and found myself fighting all the time with my boyfriend. The problem was I liked to discuss things, but he liked to argue over things. I tried many times explaining to him the difference, but he couldn’t see it. He kept telling me discussions and arguments were the same thing. It took me awhile, but I finally got through to him and once he understood the difference, we got along almost argument-free for several years.

I explained it to him this way. In a discussion, there is respect on both sides. It’s two people listening to one another’s viewpoints and coming to some kind of agreement, compromise, or understanding. In an argument, there is no respect. It’s two people with very different viewpoints who are trying to convince one another that the other is wrong. Since when does anyone ever convince someone else that he or she is wrong? It doesn’t matter how logical you are about it. When feelings are involved, both people can be simultaneously right and wrong. In a discussion, you get to openly and directly address the feelings behind the action or situation. In an argument, the feelings get trampled on. I have to say, no one wins in an argument. There are only losers and sore losers. Everybody wins in a discussion. There are understandings and solutions. If you pattern the communication in your relationships to be discussions instead of arguments, then you will have more harmonious and productive relationships. Anytime I am in a discussion with someone and that person attempts to turn it into an argument, I say in a gentle, but firm tone, This is not an argument. It’s a discussion. If a discussion degenerates into an argument, I simply refuse to participate. As they say, it takes two to tango. When the person wants to bring it back to a discussion, I get back in the conversation.

Approach people with love, not anger

You never want to have a discussion with someone when you are angry. If your emotions are involved, you need to take some time to step away from the situation and evaluate the best course of action. Maybe even consult a close friend who is also a direct communicator to give you some advice on what to say. Anger isn’t a true emotion. It’s a masking emotion that usually hides the true emotion of hurt or fear. If you are angry at someone, chances are you are actually hurt by them or afraid of them or some aspect of the situation. You need to take the time to figure out the source of your anger and deal with the true emotion. It won’t do any good to tell a person, “I’m mad at you.” That never works. The person will feel your anger is not justified and won’t understand you. It’s much more effective to say, “It hurt me when you ignored me the other day” or “I’m afraid you are losing interest in me.” Whatever the case may be, directly and specifically tell the person the true source of the anger. Also, follow the pattern of communicating effectively. This particular conversation might go, “I love you and you are always there when I need you. I appreciate you for that. I just want to tell you that it hurts me when you ignore me in the evenings. I’m afraid you’re losing interest in me. Maybe we should spend some quality time together after we both unwind. We could take a walk or just put our phones away for an hour. What do you think?” This is a much more effective way not only to directly deal with the issue you are having in your relationship, but to also get the outcome you desire from the situation. The key here is you also have to want a good outcome.

There are some people in this world who just like to fight and argue. I’ve met many of them, but I am not one of them. I prefer peace, harmony, tranquility, happiness, and healthy relationships in my life. These kinds of relationships take preparation and work, but are completely worth it. Like any good habit, once you take the time to develop it into your life, it becomes easy and second nature. After awhile, you might even wonder how you lived your life before you communicated this way.

© 2013 maramerce

Comments 8 comments

denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

Thanks for addressing this important issue. Communication is the stuff of which relationships are made, and the better we get at communicating our feelings in a civil and respectful manner, the better our relationships will be. When we use words to build and strengthen one another, life is much smoother.

maramerce profile image

maramerce 3 years ago from United States Author

I absolutely HATE to argue in my personal relationships. I simply won't keep a relationship in my life that has that kind of friction in it. I get along with all my friends. My closest friends and I NEVER argue. I have one or two friends I may have a disagreement with once every couple of years, but it always serves to strengthen us and make our friendship better. Romantically, if I'm with a guy who makes me feel like I have to fight to be heard or respected, it won't last long. For me, that relationship has to be a safe harbor, a shoulder to cry on, a soft place to land after a hard day. If I have to deal with all the conflict in this world and then go home to more conflict, it really throws my inner world into turmoil. I am an extremely sensitive and intuitive person so I cannot be with someone who doesn't understand that delicate balance of emotion in me. I feel like people often mistake passion for ignorance. I am a passionate person, but my passion comes through more genuinely when I am at peace in a relationship, not when there is strife.

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California

As a direct communicator this hub has excellent ideas to help me use a little more finesse. Saying something positive when you start a confrontation is something I have been working hard to do.

Nice work. Welcome to Hub Pages.

maramerce profile image

maramerce 3 years ago from United States Author

tirelesstraveler--thank you so much. I'm glad you found something useful in it!

John 2 years ago

giving compliments then a negative is being passive aggressive.

maramerce profile image

maramerce 2 years ago from United States Author

No. Passive aggression is in the intent and the tone, not the words you use.

JeromieC 2 years ago

I am very thankful for this article. I was let go from a job on Friday for being "too confrontational". While I believe there is a nugget of truth in it, I don't think I was all in the wrong either. I suppose I wasn't discretionary with my confrontation. I also found myself getting into massive fights with my girlfriend recently. This advice is sound especially the removing one's self to cool off. We did that, we're learning to use "I" statements instead of finger pointing. Giving a compliment before a criticism is also sound advice, it goes back to the Dale Carnegie school "How to Make Friends and Influence People" . So maybe I was "too confrontational, but I'm also learning how not to be a doormat. Anyway thanks , it's lowering my stress levels.

Hazel Abee profile image

Hazel Abee 15 months ago from Malaysia

Very interesting writeup .. I have met many people who believe and show their authority by shouting .. Shouting or raising voice does not earn any respect from colleagues, subordinates, partner or family. It just goes to say how unethical your behavior is

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